Lights, Camera, Reaction: Brown and the TV Debates

New Statesman (1996), April 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

Lights, Camera, Reaction: Brown and the TV Debates


Weeks before he stood down as prime minister in the summer of 2007, Tony Blair addressed a gathering at the Reuters news agency on a subject close to his heart and that of his audience. The media, he said, were like a "feral beast", hunting in packs for "fear of missing out" on the big stories. Mr Blair didn't know the half of it. The former PM may have suffered a mauling from the beast over his handling of the Iraq war and its aftermath, but when it really mattered--in the run-up to the 1997, 2001 and 2005 general elections--the media (and the press in particular) were largely benign. Not any more.

As his successor prepares to call another election, he will be doing so without the support of the country's most widely read newspaper, the News of the World, having lost the backing of its most popular daily, the Sun, last September. (The Sun has adopted an increasingly shrill and partisan tone in the intervening months.) Meanwhile, the Financial Times--a crucial supporter of Labour through the 1990s and even of Neil Kinnock at the 1992 election--is wavering.

So, Labour goes into the 2010 election campaign facing a press more hostile than at any time since 1992, when the Sun urged, in he event of a Kinnock victory, "Will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights." As it turned out, and partly because of that hostility, no one needed to flick the switch. Today, Mr Brown must prove he can win-or at least stop David Cameron's Tories from gaining an overall majority--without the Fourth Estate.

What should Labour do? It is tempting to say that in this digital age it can bypass the traditional media and talk straight to the voter. Tempting but wrong.

Despite the growing role of new media as a conduit for political conversation, most people will get most of their election news mediated through the usual channels--television and newspapers. …

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